In-depth learning stressed with Common Core

    Beginning in the fall, teachers in the Archdiocese of New Orleans will be “diving deeper” in math instruction using Common Core standards.
    Long gone are the days of rote learning where a teacher stands at the blackboard and has students memorize the multiplication tables.
     In tomorrow’s classroom, students will collaborate in groups to solve a problem and then articulate to fellow groups the reasoning behind their answer.
    “Having students take and share their ideas ... will broaden everyone’s perspective,” Dr. Raenell Houston, associate superintendent for the Office of Catholic Schools, said.
      That’s the thrust behind Common Core standards – teaching students a strong foundation in math and English that builds throughout elementary and high school.

    “We’re not teaching the steps to get an answer (algorithm); we’re teaching more understandings of concepts so students can apply that math in everyday situations,” said Dr. Lisa Sullivan, chairman of education at Our Lady of Holy Cross College, who conducted day-long Common Core standards workshops in June for secondary Catholic school teachers (teaching high school-level math) in the archdiocese.
    The workshop at Our Lady of Holy Cross College was one of several coordinated and funded by the Office of Catholic Schools to prepare administrators and teachers for implementation of Common Core math standards in kindergarten through 12th grade this fall. The archdiocese will integrate English/language arts standards next year.
    “It guides teachers on how mathematics should be taught by explaining to them what the major shifts of instructional practices are,” Sullivan said about the workshop.
   Sullivan said Common Core math standards concentrate on what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. The standards teach a more sophisticated reasoning process.
    “They (students) need to do more problem solving and application to real-life situations,” Sullivan said. “They (teachers) need to require students to do more reasoning and be able to practice more viable solutions” by defending their work (to demonstrate understanding of the concepts taught).
    As Sullivan was working with teachers June 4, national consultant Susan Abelein, Ph.D., a presenter with Catapult Learning who has worked with the National Catholic Educational Association on Catholic curriculum identity and the Common Core as well as a Catholic diocese in New York, was at Archbishop Rummel High School in Metairie giving an overview of Common Core to administrators.
    Abelein helped write the NCEA Common Core standards for English/Language Arts to ensure that the Catholic identity was woven in while incorporating the standards. Using Common Core standards in the classroom will help set up students for learning in later years, Abelein said.
    Sullivan thinks a beneficial outcome of Common Core will be students graduating from school and knowing the math they learned well enough not just to take a test but also to apply it outside of school in the real world. In other words, knowing that 25 percent off of something priced at $100 would reduce the cost to $75.
Ahead of the game
    Will the new standards be much of a change from what’s currently being taught in Archdiocese of New Orleans classrooms? Not for most teachers, say Houston and fellow Office of Catholic Schools assistant superintendent Dr. Becky Maloney.
    Catholic schools in the archdiocese already teach above state standards. The major shift will be in the rigor of instruction to ensure depth of students’ understanding of concepts. Because teachers build on what is taught the previous year in what Abelein calls vertical alignment, collaboration among teachers across grade levels is essential for continuity of learning.
    “Coherence is important,” Houston said. “Teaching will be more in-depth in a coherent manner. ... It will be essential that kids are fluent in tasks that will be built on – one step will lead to the next.”
    The way English/Language Arts will be taught – with an increase of reading informational texts in high school – will better prepare students for college and careers, Abelein said.
    Houston and Maloney said teachers and administrators already have embraced the change. Several schools have invited them to participate in faculty overviews about instructional practices needed to meet Common Core standards, and several principals are incorporating time in teachers’ schedules for cross-grade curriculum discussions.
    Response to the professional training sessions has exceeded their expectations – more than 700 took time out during the summer to attend.
    “Teachers are here, so it is obvious they are showing enthusiasm and want to learn,” Maloney said.
Not all for Common Core
    On the surface, adopting standards that increase students’ depth of knowledge and understanding in math and English to apply in everyday life would seem to be a good thing. So why are people against it? One concern is having students take national tests based on the new skills without preparing or giving time to teachers to implement the new standards in their instructional method. Also, some are concerned the federal government is eroding parents’ and states’ right by nationalizing education.
    National testing doesn’t really apply to the majority of students in Catholic schools in the archdiocese because the Office of Catholic Schools hasn’t adopted Common Core as a curriculum – only its rigorous standards – and the archdiocese hasn’t aligned with an assessment group. (Only scholarship students whose tuition is paid by the state will be required to take a test based on Common Core.)
    In addition to professional development for Common Core, the archdiocese has amassed information on many other professional development opportunities for school administrators.
    Wanting the best for students is the aim behind adopting the Common Core standards, Houston said. Local Catholic schools will be nurturing better problem solvers and better critical thinkers all-around, she said.
    Parents, teachers and administrators interested in learning more about Common Core can visit the OCS website – – and click on the new link for a plethora of information and resources.
    Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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